When first-year 49ers GM John Lynch—the darling of the draft—turned the No. 2 pick into two blue-chip players, TheMMQB was there
"LET'S DUCK in here a minute and talk," John Lynch said to coach Kyle Shanahan and chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe in the team's war room last Thursday night, motioning to his office across the hall. It was 23 minutes before the start of the 2017 NFL draft.
Three men, one plan. As they walked into the room and Lynch (left) shut his door, this is what they knew: Cleveland, picking first, was not trading and was likely but not certain to take Texas A&M pass-rusher Myles Garrett over North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. San Francisco, picking second, had three men clearly on top of its board: Garrett, Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and, in a surprise, Alabama middle linebacker Reuben Foster. Chicago, picking third, badly wanted ... someone. The Bears and the Niners had an understanding that if Chicago's man (the Niners figured it was Thomas) was still on the board after Cleveland picked, the Bears would give at least two third-round picks to move from three to two.
No nerves, but no pleasantries either. Marathe, who talks very fast and with great confidence, called another team with interest in the second slot and said, "We got some good action on the pick." Marathe spoke to the other club for a minute, just to crystallize that if Garrett were there at two, the Niners would either pick or take a ransom for the choice.
"Let's see if we can get one last thing with Chicago," Lynch said to Marathe.
Marathe called the Bears. "To try to solidify this now," Marathe said to Chicago GM Ryan Pace, "we're gonna need a little bit more. It wouldn't have to be much. Like, your four. So let's say: Your third this year (No. 67), your three next year and your four this year (No. 111).... I'm not gonna string you along.... No.... I will do it quickly. Let me get with John and Kyle and I'll call you right back."
The Bears agreed.
"Man, who do they want?" Lynch asked. "Gotta be Solomon, right?"
"Call me crazy," Marathe said, "but I think it's Trubisky."
"Then why'd they go get [free-agent QB Mike] Glennon?" Lynch asked.
They debated and made sure that if they couldn't find a trading partner to move down again from three, they were comfortable taking Foster—with a questionable shoulder and a positive combine test for a diluted drug sample—if the Bears took Solomon. They wanted to try to move down as far as No. 8 because they felt Foster had no chance of being selected before Cincinnati at No. 9.
Four minutes passed. "Don't lose Chicago, Paraag," Lynch said.
Marathe got the Bears on the phone. "Cleveland needs not to do something crazy," he said to Pace. "Other than that, we're good to go if you are.... We're close to a handshake, right?"
"Hey," Marathe asked Pace, "can you tell me who you're taking? I'm so curious." No dice.
Eight minutes until the draft went live in Philly. The Niners were fairly sure Garrett would go No. 1. Now they'd made a verbal deal to ship the No. 2 pick. They were mystified though. They weren't sure who that second pick would be. They weren't sure if they'd be able to deal the third pick down for more picks to replenish one of the NFL's least-talented rosters. "Got a Keurig, John?" Shanahan asked. "I need some coffee."
Lynch had woken up at 3:30 that morning. His mentor and friend John Elway, GM of the Broncos, had told him to pace himself, that nothing of importance happens on draft morning. Lynch told his scouts to come in at 1 p.m. PT, with the event scheduled to begin at 5:10. But Lynch was like a kid on Christmas, dying to find out what was under the tree. He got up and watched tape of second-round prospects in his hotel room, two miles from his office. He worked out, then jogged to work.
Before Lynch went to bed the previous night, Elway had called to alert him that he'd heard reliably that the Browns really might take Trubisky, not Garrett. Someone else told Lynch on Wednesday night that Cleveland's coaches would be stunned if the pick was anyone but Garrett. Whom to believe?
On Thursday morning Lynch got another call, and now he too felt strongly that the Browns would pick Garrett. And so he ran the flat San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail on a warm morning, passing Silicon Valley joggers and bicyclists in anonymity. "To be honest," he said, taking a slow pace, "we've been anticipating they'd take Myles the entire time. It wasn't until yesterday that I got a heads up that they may be going with Trubisky. Then it kept mounting. I think they tried for a while to get someone to move up [and take Myles], and it didn't work. So they said, Let's put out the word on Trubisky. Not a bad play on their part."
The draft began. Garrett to the Browns. The trade with the Bears went through. No drama. Then the waiting, and Marathe made a round of calls to teams drafting between four and 14. Six teams said no to the trade-down.
At 5:21, Lynch blurted out, "Trubisky!"
Marathe: "I told you!"
Now the room went from reaching for Foster to drafting Thomas. At 5:29, after waiting for an offer that never came, Lynch picked up a land line and dialed Thomas's cell. Bizarrely, Lynch and Thomas had taken a management class together when Lynch returned to Stanford to get his degree in 2014. Thomas had been a freshman. So Lynch said when the phone was answered, "Solomon! It's me, John Lynch! You want to be a 49er?" Shanahan got on the phone next: "I told you it'd all work out."
Then team CEO Jed York: "Congratulations, man.... Call me Jed!"
Lynch got a text from Elway—"Nice going!"—and said, "Had Solomon been gone, we'd have taken Reuben. And we'd have been happy."
Within the hour, though, it would become apparent, as Foster slid further and further down the draft, that it didn't have to be one or the other: the Niners could have both. Back to the phone....
To find out how the 49ers completed the back end of their perfect draft-day double, visitTheMMQB.com
BIZARRELY, LYNCH AND THOMAS HAD TAKEN A CLASS TOGETHER AT STANFORD. SO LYNCH SAID, "SOLOMON! IT'S ME, JOHN LYNCH! YOU WANT TO BE A 49ER?"